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As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine May 2010 Issue
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Historic Walking Guides: Madrid
by Beebe Bahrami

Reviewed by Volker Poelzl
Living Abroad Contributing Editor

Historic Walking Guides  - Madrid

Exploring Madrid on foot is the best way to get to know this great city. It is the only way you can find out what Madrid tastes, smells, looks, and feels like. Spontaneous explorations of Madrid will no doubt lead to surprise discoveries for visitors, but if you want to take a more deliberate journey through the fascinating history of this city, I recommend taking the Historic Walking Guides–Madrid book with you on your next trip.

What I like about this book is the fact that it reveals the rich history of Madrid in a lively and engaging manner, without being dry or overly didactic. The introduction to Madrid’s history is covered in a mere ten pages, enough to give readers an overview of the city’s past while providing a historic framework for the walks.

The book takes visitors on a journey through Madrid’s history, from the Middle Ages to the present. Although Madrid is very much a modern city, the urban maze of Spain’s capital hides an architectural heritage that goes back to period when the Muslim city of Madrid was conquered by the Christian king Alfonso VI in 1083. The historic walks cover a large variety of sites in and around the center of Madrid. Each walk covers landmarks from a different period, from medieval city gates and Hapsburg monasteries to Enlightenment palaces and Belle Époque neighborhoods. Visitors are introduced to remnants of Muslim fortifications, Romanesque churches, as well as palaces and cathedrals built when Spain was the wealthiest kingdom on earth. Author Beebe Bahrami demonstrates her intimate knowledge of the city as she describes walks that introduce visitors to much more than Madrid’s most famous tourist attractions. Her knowledge of its history and her vivid descriptions of the sights bring Madrid’s past to life. Walking through the city’s historic districts not only allows you to visit important historic buildings and monuments, but you also offer a deeper understanding of how Madrid came to be the way it is today. In addition to four walks through the heart of Madrid’s history, Bahrami includes other fascinating walks that follow the lives of writers and artists, as well as historic wine taverns, restaurants, and hotels.

The book is well-illustrated with black and white photographs and includes maps of the suggested walks. However, the low-quality maps could use some improvement. There is no overview map of Madrid to orient readers and show the parts of the city in which the historic walks are located. The routes are outlined in pale gray lines, which are difficult to follow. It would be helpful if the routes were marked in color. It would also be helpful if the descriptions of the sights were numbered and referenced on the map, so visitors could more easily find the places that interest them the most. But this are just minor issues which do little to impact the value of the fine book.

The book is lightweight and has a portable format, which makes it easy to take along in addition to other travel guides. For anyone interested in digging a bit deeper into Madrid’s fascinating history, the “Historic Walking Guides–Madrid” is a great travel companion that will not disappoint you.

The publisher, Destinworld Publishing, has also published Historic Walking Guides for Edinburgh, the Florida Keys, Bruges, and Gibraltar. For more information see Beebe's site to order Historic Walking Guides Madrid.

Beebe Bahrami (www.beebesfeast.com) is a freelance writer and cultural anthropologist specializing in travel, food and wine, and cross-cultural writing. Her work also appears in Michelin Green Guides, National Geographic books, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and Archaeology, Expedition, Bark, and Wag magazines. She is currently at work on a travel narrative about Spain's remote northwest, much of it researched on foot and in anticipation of a good meal unexpectedly encountered on the path. Her travel book, The Spiritual Traveler Spain: A Guide to Sacred Sites and Pilgrim Routes, is available from HiddenSpring Books, an imprint of Paulist Press.

Beebe is a frequent contributor to Transitions Abroad, and you may see her many articles here.

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